Using pure statistical comparatives, it can’t seem surprising that the St. John’s IceCaps beat the Portland Pirates Sunday evening in Lewiston, Me.
After all, heading into the game, the IceCaps were sitting almost 20 points ahead of the Pirates in the American Hockey League’s Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference standings, and had won six of their seven head-to-head meetings, outscoring Portland 34-20 in the process.
Nevertheless, IceCaps’ head coach Keith McCambridge was particularly pleased about his team’s 6-5 victory Sunday in the final game of a six-game road trip.
“I’m very proud of this group, very proud of what they did here today,” said McCambridge after the contest, which saw the IceCaps trail 3-1 heading into the third period before scoring five straight goals, beginning with John Albert’s shorthanded tally 16 seconds into the final frame.
“We were playing our third game in three days, with travel (the IceCaps had played Saturday night in Worcester, Mass,) and we had already done pretty well (on the road trip). I knew there was an excuse there (for not winning), but this group wouldn’t use it because they don’t quit.
“They don’t use excuses.”
It was a fourth straight win for St. John’s (32-19-4), which has gone 12-3-1 in its last sixteen games as it works to solidify a playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
Albert scored twice, getting a first-period power-play marker and the goal in the third, his league-leading sixth shorthanded tally of the season (three more than anyone else in the AHL) and his fifth in his last eight games.
Blair Riley, Will O’Neill, Jerome Samson and Kael Mouillierat were they other red-light triggers for the IceCaps.
Mouillierat’s goal at 18:27 of the third made the score 6-3 and simply seemed to be extra insurance at the time. Instead, it turned out to be the official winner as the Pirates got markers from Chris Brown and Tobias Rieder, the latter’s second of the game, in the final minute of the contest.
Brandon Yip and Brandon MacMillan also scored for Portland, which has lost three straight, including a 5-4 setback Saturday night in Manchester, N.H., where the Pirates also held a two-goal lead in the third period only to watch the league-leading Monarchs rally to win on a late marker by St. John’s native Zach O’Brien.
“That’s why that shorthanded goal to start the third was so huge for us,” said McCambridge. “We knew what had happened to them the night before, so we realized that if we could get to within one, that they would probably tighten up a bit.”
Goalie Tyler Beskorowany, making his first appearance for the IceCaps, faced 36 shots as he spelled Michael Hutchinson, who had made seven straight starts and 14 in St. John’s last 15 games prior to Sunday. That included a 3-1 win over the Worcester Sharks on Saturday, when Hutchinson made an IceCaps-record 49 saves.
Beskorowany was signed after Eddie Pasquale opted for season-ending surgery to address a nagging hip injury.
Mark Visentin began the game between the pipes for Portland, but got the hook after St. John’s fifth goal, by O’Neill midway through the third. Louis Domingue came on in relief and ended up taking the loss since he surrendered Mouillierat’s goal.
St. John’s, which sits fourth in the Eastern Conference — two points up on the Albany Devils, three ahead of the Providence Bruins and four in front of the Hershey Bears and Norfolk Admirals — has 21 games remaining in its regular-season schedule. Thirteen of those are at Mile One Centre, which is where the IceCaps kick off a seven-game home stand Friday and Saturday against the Binghamton Senators.
Notes: Kyle McKinnon had two assists for the IceCaps, giving him nine points (three goals, six assists) in the last four games. He has had at least two points in each of those contests ... Mouillierat returned to the St. John’s lineup after being sidelined for two games by the flu. With Mouillierat back, winger Josh Lunden came out after playing Saturday in Worcester. It marked Lunden first game action in more than four months as he had been recovering from a concussion suffered Oct. 19... Samson’s goal was his 18th of the season, tying him for the team lead with Andrew Gordon ... St. John’s has scored at least six goals in each of its last three trips to the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston ... The Molson Canadian three stars Sunday: 1. Albert, SJs 2. MacKinnon, SJs 3. Rieder, Por … The Mary Brown’s hardest-working IceCap: Julian Melchiori.